Moon – Mekong Fish Still Can’t Jump Up Ladders
By Lor Chandara, The Cambodia Daily, Cambodia
Pak Moon Dam – A "dramatic" decline in fish species has paralysed
fishing communities in Northeast Thailand since the Pak Moon Dam was built
in 1994, according to the leader of a Thai fishing
The Park Moon dam is on the Moon River, the
largest tributary of the Mekong in Thailand.
Sihatham, aged 55, a fisherman all his life, said that since the dam was
built, the number of fish species has fallen from about 200 down to
Fish catches have also decreased by 90 percent, said the
fishermen’s leader, who was recently elected the head of the local
The Electricity Generating
Authority of Thailand (EGAT), which built the dam, rejected the claims.
According to Mr. Subhin Panyamag, Senior Public Coordinator, the dam could
have caused the decline of "fishing opportunities". However, there were
But EGAT officials admitted in a briefing
to the IMMF Times that there were "bad lessons" from Pak Moon. "We would
not go ahead with it again," a spokesman said. But they insisted that the
dam was not a "mistake".
However, Mr. Sihatham said villagers
living by fishing had lost their traditional lifestyle because the dam had
robbed the river of fish. It had destroyed their culture and quality of
According to Mr. Sihatham, the dam has altered water
flow and fish migration. The blasting of rapids destroyed the cracks and
crevices under the rocks where fish sought shelter, food and oxygen. And
although a fish ladder had been built, fish can’t jump up the ladder, said
At the start of the rainy season, from May to
July, migratory fish from the Mekong River swim into the Moon to feed and
spawn. Most of the fish travel seasonally between the Tonle Sap River in
Cambodia, Lee Pee Waterfalls in Laos and the Mool in
Kamtan Phatang, a 52-year-old fisherman with five
children, said: “I used to catch 10 to 20 kilograms of fish per day before
to support my family, but now I get only one kilo, and sometimes nothing.”
He pulled a 100-meter long fishing net out of the water as he spoke but
there were no fish in it.
Some of Mr. Phatang’s children have
left home, traveling to other provinces and Bangkok to find new jobs,
rather than living "miserably" on fishing, he said.
2,000 families affected by the dam were compensated by the government.
They were supposed to receive 90,000 baht each over three years. But
villagers say they received only 30,000 baht. The rest, they say, went to
a newly established co-operative, set up by a government
The dam’s fish ladder was added to the dam after
increasing concern about fish migration. But fish ladders have mainly been
built for individual species. A fishery expert says it is highly unlikely
that a fish ladder could accommodate all the fish species in the Moon,
especially migrants from the Mekong that like a slow current.
Asked for his views on the fish ladder, one fisherman laughed. How
can fish swim up and down if the ladder is steep and there is a strong
current?" he asked.
In an effort to preserve fisheries, EGAT
officials have released a million giant catfish fingerlings and a million
shrimps into the river. They said that several million more will go into
the river in the coming months. But local people said that these fish are
unlike the ones that naturally migrate from the Mekong River and seek
shelter under the rapids to spawn.
Pollution from riverside
industry poses a direct threat to the Mekong fisheries of Laos, Cambodia
and Vietnam. Fisheries are also threatened by development. Current plans
include the blasting of rapids in Yunnan, China, for tourism and
navigation and other dams in less developed countries such as
Hundreds of small and large dams have stopped migration
of fish. In some rivers, species have become extinct. Factory wastes and
agricultural chemicals have caused fish disease and weakened their
resistance to viruses.